The MLB season is rapidly approaching, and with it comes over/under win totals to wager on for clubs. When digging into the National League lines, five totals stood out as strong bets. The following tables show the over/under win tallies provided at 5Dimes and split up by division. The Phillies aren’t among the five teams featured in this piece, but I’d like to point out that their total rose three wins after signing Bryce Harper. Kudos to the gamblers who speculated on Philadelphia’s over before they landed the star outfielder.
Marlins – 63.5
|2018 Pythagorean Wins||58|
|2019 PECOTA Projection||67|
|2019 FanGraphs Projection||62|
The National League East has collectively gotten stronger, save for one club. Despite winning only 63 games last year, the bottom-dwelling Marlins were one of the luckiest teams, according to Baseball-Reference’s Pythagorean Win methodology. They bested their Pythagorean Win expectation by five, a margin that tied the Red Sox and Brewers for the third-most favorable. Since last year, they have dealt their best player, catcher J.T. Realmuto, within the division to the Phillies.
Miami’s roster is putrid. FanGraphs projects Brian Anderson to lead the team in wOBA at .324, and they project for a hilariously bad .297 wOBA among their batters (i.e. not including their pitchers’ hitting numbers). Their pitching isn’t expected to be good, either. Trevor Richards’ predicted 4.19 ERA leads the starters, and the other four pitchers forecasted to pitch more than 100 innings have ERA estimations north of 4.25. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA anticipates the Marlins besting their over/under win total, but FanGraphs has them hitting the under. It’s important to note these projections only consider players currently in the organization. In other words, they don’t account for in-season transactions. So, while PECOTA believes the Marlins will exceed their over/under total, this is clearly a non-contender likely to trade any overachieving veterans to accumulate more prospects. The fact that FanGraphs projects 62 wins before accounting for midseason moves helps make the Marlins my favorite under bet.
Giants – 73.5
|2018 Pythagorean Wins||70|
|2019 PECOTA Projection||73|
|2019 FanGraphs Projection||75|
San Francisco is another team not projected to contend. They’re not in the same class of non-contender as the Marlins, but they share a division with the defending NL champion Dodgers and wild-card rep Rockies. While the Diamondbacks are retooling, the Padres inked superstar Manny Machado and boast one of baseball’s best farm systems, which would aid them in trading should they challenge for a wild-card spot.
The Giants have a handful of veterans who could bounce back after a down 2018, but FanGraphs projects their hitters for just a .311 wOBA. Madison Bumgarner headlines the rotation, but he’s the only starter FanGraphs projects to record a sub-4.00 ERA (3.90). His name has also surfaced in trade rumors. Their somewhat lackluster relievers lack the high-end bat-missers of most modern bullpens. Also, like the Marlins, they should be expected to deal away useful veterans during the season.
Plucked from the Dodgers this season to take over as GM, Farhan Zaidi should have the job security to overhaul San Francisco’s roster as part of a rebuild. Yes, the Giants were one of the final clubs in the mix for Harper, but don’t confuse their interest in signing one of the game’s best hitters — who is only 26 years old — as a sign of them trying to win now.
Cubs – 89.5
|2018 Pythagorean Wins||94|
|2019 PECOTA Projection||79|
|2019 FanGraphs Projection||88|
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Jon Lester’s 3.32 ERA last year was smoke and mirrors and a full run lower than his advanced metrics (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and DRA). The lefty’s regression began in the second half when he totaled a 4.50 ERA in 70.0 innings. Second-half Lester is a reasonable projection for this year, and he’s not the rotation’s only question mark. Prized 2018 free-agent addition Yu Darvish made only eight starts spanning 40.0 innings, and it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll look this year.
Those two uncertainties alone make the under look better than the over, and that says nothing of the Brewers returning a strong squad, the Reds adding pieces to compete this year, and the Cardinals finishing 41-28 under manager Mike Shildt after canning Mike Matheny following a 47-46 start. The NL Central is tough, and both FanGraphs and BP project the Cubs to finish under 89.5 wins. Unlike the two previously discussed teams, the Cubs are built to win now and could bolster their roster through in-season trades. However, take another look at that PECOTA projection from BP. No projection system is perfect, but a 10-plus win discrepancy between the over/under total and PECOTA is noteworthy and piques my interest even further in the under.
Reds – 79
|2018 Pythagorean Win Total||69|
|2019 PECOTA Projection||81|
|2019 FanGraphs Projection||81|
The Reds will need to win 13 more games in 2019 than they won in 2018 to hit the over, but both BP and FanGraphs project them to succeed with 81 victories. Although Cincinnati’s starting pitching was a roaring tire fire last season, they’ve overturned 60% of their rotation by trading for Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark. Luis Castillo is a bounce-back candidate, too. Anthony DeSclafani rounds out the rotation with an unexciting, but adequate hurler.
The offense is what’s most exciting about the Reds, though. Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez not only validated breakout 2017 campaigns, but they also built on them in 2018. The team acquired Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp — who is best served as a bench bat and fourth outfielder, a role the FanGraphs’ depth charts projects for him — via a trade with the Dodgers. They’re also getting back Jesse Winker, who was heating up before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery last July. Top prospect Nick Senzel is getting reps in center field in the spring and is expected to claim that position at some point this season, perhaps as early as Opening Day.
One of the primary reasons I’m buying into the Reds hitting their over, however, is their overall depth. Scott Schebler is a strong fourth or fifth outfielder. Jose Iglesias is a defensive whiz who totaled 2.5 fWAR last year, and Derek Dietrich (0.8 fWAR last year, 1.5 fWAR in 2017, and 2.4 fWAR in 2016) signed to a minor league pact. They’re built to withstand some bumps and bruises along the way without a massive drop off in reserve talent.
Nationals – 88.5
|2018 Pythagorean Wins||90|
|2019 PECOTA Projection||89|
|2019 FanGraphs Projection||90|
Washington was one of the unluckiest teams last year, per their Pythagorean Win total. Their negative-eight win gap between their expected and actual wins tied the Orioles for MLB’s second-largest gap. BP and FanGraphs both project the Nationals to sneak over their team win total, too. Those are good starting points for taking the over. While Harper leaving via free agency and signing with the division-rival Phillies is the most attention-grabbing change, they shored up some major holes from last year’s team.
Catcher was a black hole for the 2018 Nationals, and they’ve since plugged it by acquiring both Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. They added Brian Dozier to play second base after trading Daniel Murphy last year, and the former projects to bounce back after struggling while playing through a bone bruise in his knee last year. Juan Soto, who had a historically great age-19 season, will open 2019 with the club after playing 116 games for them last year. Adam Eaton is healthy after playing just 95 games last year, and stud outfielder prospect Victor Robles projects to help fill the void left by Harper.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are a heck of a one-two punch in the rotation. They’re joined by free-agent additions Patrick Corbin and, less notably but coming off of a stellar season backed by solid, albeit less spectacular peripherals, Anibal Sanchez. Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough are new faces in the bullpen who should help in high-leverage situations. Washington’s deep roster is talented offensively and on the bump. The Nationals will also benefit from playing the wretched Marlins 19 times.